PRIME Minister Stephen Harper finally moved to address the controversies involving Julian Fantino and moved him on Monday from the Veteran Affairs portfolio to National Defence as associate minister who “will support the Minister of National Defence in the areas of arctic sovereignty, information technology security and foreign intelligence, thus continuing the Government’s efforts to defend our values and interests at home and around the world.”
He was replaced by Erin O’Toole, a former Air Force navigator.
Fantino, former Toronto Police chief and former Ontario Provincial Police commissioner, was first elected to the House of Commons in 2010 and re-elected in 2011. In July 2013, he was appointed Minister of Veterans Affairs. Previously, he was appointed Minister of State (Seniors) in January 2011 and Associate Minister of National Defence in May 2011. He was appointed Minister of International Cooperation in July 2012.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair welcomed Fantino’s “demotion,” but warned that a change of direction is needed, not just a shuffle of ministers.
“Our best wishes to Erin O’Toole as a new minister,” said Mulcair. “Now let’s see him open the nine offices that were closed by the Conservatives and implement the all-party committee report on the New Veterans Charter.”
NDP Veterans Affairs Critic Peter Stoffer added: “I congratulate Mr. O’Toole on his appointment. Veterans in Canada have been looking for new leadership at the federal level and have become extremely upset about the direction Stephen Harper has been taking. The new minister has a big challenge in front of him and I hope he is ready to listen and take immediate action.”
The NDP noted that this is Harper’s fifth veteran’s affairs minister and the 11th different minister in the past 17 years of Conservative and Liberal governments.
Priorities needing immediate attention from the new minister include:
* Re-opening regional Veterans Affairs offices
* Implementing the unanimous New Veterans Charter report recommendations from the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs
* Eliminating the CPP clawback at age 65 for disabled CF and RCMP veterans
* Allowing all modern-day veterans access to long term care beds
* Eliminating the Veterans Review and Appeal Board
* Calling an inquiry into the chemical spraying at CFB Gagetown, and offering compensation to military members and civilians who were exposed.
“New Democrats have many suggestions on improving benefits and services to CF and RCMP veterans and their families,” said Stoffer. “We hope this minster is willing to work with us and get this done.”